Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tis the Season (again)

Didn’t we just get done with an election? It’s that time again and you can pick up your petitions for the spring primary now.

A couple weeks ago the PG passed on a ‘tip’ in PoliticsPA that recent mayoral candidate Dok Harris is rumored to be considering a run against Jason Altmire for congress. Given the spasm to show he wasn’t a Sewickly resident, but actually a city resident it seems a losing proposition to reverse course and now try and claim he is not a city resident. Could it be that the story got a bit convoluted along the way and there is a congressional race in his future… just not against Altmire?

Locally the free for all looks like it will be for State House 20 which is to fill the seat left by Don Walko who is now a judge. The Post-Gazette reported last week that the mayor confirmed his brother Adam was to be a candidate. Lady Elaine has commented here and tweeted that the other expected or likely candidates include Dan Keller, Mark Purcell, Paul McKrell, and Tim Tunstra… I bet there will be others as well so we are talking about a potentially seriously crowded race. I personally have mused that former city councilor Len Bodack might find a way to jump into the fray as well.

Here’s the deal. The race to fill the unexpired term through the end of the year will be a special election which is going to be held at the same time as the primary. Messes this all up. In a special election, one candidate from the major parties is nominated by respective political committees. So folks who do not get endorsed by their party committees have a doubly tough choice. It is not uncommon in special elections to have folks declare themselves as independents in order to run against the one endorsed candidate. Win or lose they often would re-register once the election was over. But because the primary is being held at the same time, anyone who chooses to run as an independent in the special election will not be able to run in the primary leading to a full term. Got all that?

Think it is rare or not as convoluted as it sounds. Who recalls how Doug Shields was elected?  When Bob O. left city council there was a similar election that had a special election for his unfinished term at the same time as the primary for the full term. Then, in what may be one of the more neurotic political results the Democratic Committee endorsed Tom Sciulli for special the unfilled term, yet endorsed Doug Shields for the full term. The election results worked out just like that and indeed Sciulli took office for a few months yet Shields won the primary and took office the following January. Somebody from the district once tried to explain to me the logic behind all that.. all I remember thinking that whatever the explanation was it still amounted to some group borderline disorder. Yet could we have something similar happen again.

So PA 20… I can’t begin to handicap it. To begin you might have the mayor’s brother vs. his former campaign manager for a seat which was in fact held by the mayor's grandfather and then by another he who will not be mentioned city mayor. Lots of history right there.  Not to mention a certain county executive and gubenatorial candidates lives in the district which you think could have an impact.  Then Purcell who came within a few votes of being elected to county council once but lost to Matt Drozd. Don’t know much about Tunstra or the other names being floated. For that matter don’t know much, and there is little in the record about the mayor’s brother. There even seems to be some debate with the general public over what name he goes by.

Some argue that PA 20 is on a short list to be eliminated by the coming redistricting which would make this all a short term gig no matter. Lots of arguments for that. It is one of these districts that has been stretched into the suburbs as population in or near the city has decreased. It also will have a fairly junior rep no matter, and that always makes a district more vulnerable. By my estimation, Allegheny County will likely lose the equivalent of 2 state house seats following redistricting so it’s quite possible PA20 is one of them. The only reason to think otherwise is that there might be a rep or two that announces retirement in the coming year or so which would might leave those other districts without incumbents to protect when boundaries are withdrawn. We’ll see.. Redistricting is going to be a mess all around.

So all there is to go on for figuring out PA 20 are the breakouts from the last really contested election in 2006. Here are the maps I did long ago on that election with the respective results for Walko, Purcell and Banahasky.


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